A Big Fat (Southern) Italian Wedding

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 11:30
Getting married in southern Italy

A wedding day is always a milestone. And getting married in Italy, be it in a fairytale hamlet up on the hills or on a stunning beach, is just the cherry on the cake. But nothing can compare to how big, long (and usually expensive) the experience is of getting married in southern Italy, especially if one sticks to local traditions

Be it related to a deeper religious faith and sense of community, and of course historical cultural reasons (also involving a certain need for ostentation in order to demonstrate the family’s wealth or (and) to a boundless wish of celebrating and sharing joy and food) weddings in the southern regions of the country often express a uniquely bountiful nature.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a super kitsch or an over exaggerated affair, like some popular Italian TV shows love to portray it, such as the flashy Il Boss delle Cerimonie or those hosted by the wedding planner guru Enzo Miccio. After all, the southern opulence does have its indisputable charm.

This is well demonstrated by the number of foreign VIPs choosing the lower part of the Boot to celebrate their wedding: from the Hollywood director Sofia Coppola who got married in the small village in Basilicata where her family came from, to the luxurious wedding of Eliot Cohen and Renée Sutton – daughter to the multi-millionaire Jeff Sutton – which put Apulia under the spotlight in the summer 2017. Next: in September the Italian rap-singer Fedez and his bride-to-be Chiara Ferragni, one of the world’s most popular fashion bloggers, will say “Yes, I do” in Noto, the wonderful Sicilian Baroque village.

[Noto, Sicily. The soon-to-be-wedding destination of Chiara Ferragni, one of the world's top fashion bloggers]

So, what makes a Southern wedding so special even for average people? Many things, we’d say.

First of all, the boundaries in time tend to be elongated. Celebrations often start several months before the wedding, when the couple exchanges the “marriage promise” (promessa). Basically a mandatory bureaucratic procedure where they officially express to a local authority their will to get married within 6 months, this first step in building a family is usually marked by an intimate family celebration, with a festive toast.

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Yet, in Southern Italy this day often becomes an anticipation of the actual wedding, involving a huge number of guests, presents and a proper feast. 

Once the big day gets closer, celebrations can take place in different places, times and settings. Especially in these days, when bride and groom often moved to another city (or even country) for study or job reasons and they probably belong to different home towns, the wedding can involve a sort of family and friends’ reunion with people gathering from all over Italy and beyond; this is why it can all start with an informal dinner or a proper party open to friends and family on the day before, and eventually go on even on the day after the wedding with a further occasion to share food and wine.

[Typical trulli in Alberobello, Puglia; a region well known for lavish southern Italian weddings]

Figures are big, too, under every aspects.

The budget – often charged on the bride’s father, according to tradition – allowed for the overall event, is usually impressive: from the catering and location fees to the florist expenses without to forget the wedding dress, to the number of guest which can get as big as to include the entire population (even reaching a few hundred people) when it gets to small villages where everybody knows each other. Yet, proud parents don’t hesitate to go into debt to assure their beloved daughter an unforgettable day. By the way, it’s worth mentioning that usually those expenses are covered by the amount collected in the “buste” (envelopes) which often replace the presents and are proportioned to how many people joins the party.

The culinary side, of course, plays a major role.

Usually, guests arrive to the reception – be it a private house, an elegant restaurant or a beautiful masseria, a farm turned into a refined location which is one of the main reasons why people love to get married in Apulia – and have to wait for the newlywed couple to get back from the official photoshooting, by then a rich buffet is served. 

Don’t expect a few trays of canapès and basic finger food; the hors-d’oeuvres  can include – also depending on season and area – raw fish and shellfish, fried bites, oven-baked pizzas, grilled meat or even the freshiest cow’s milk mozzarella made on the premises by the mozzarellaro, as it often happens in Apulia

After this savoury food frenzie, the proper meal is only about to start with the average courses served at the table. Luckily enough, nowadays the overabundant yet informal starters’ buffet partially replaces the menu, a feast of 6-8 courses including both meat and fish, to a minimalist 4 courses, also cutting some of the endless time spent at the table.

Cutting the cake doesn’t necessarily marks the end of eating: an abundance of fresh fruit, chocolate, other sweets or ice cream can match the official cake, probably introducing the after party with music, dancing and more drinks. And the traditional confetti (almonds or other nuts covered with a snow white sugar icing) wrapped up in a voile sachet and offered as a souvenir and goodwill sign, are often replaced by the confettata, one or several trays with different kinds of confetti to be eaten at the moment or taken home.

Moreover, in Sicily the local tradition also demands the guantiera, an additional tray full of delicious marzipan cakes. All this, of course, makes the average cost for each guest oscillate between 150 and 250 euro, which is by far more expensive than in other areas, bucking the common trend of a lower cost of living in Southern regions.

[Traditional confettata and confetti]

Finally, family traditions can’t be neglected. While almost every single town (and family) has their own, these are a few that are quite popular everywhere.

Usually, the bride and groom sleep in their own family's home, richly decorated with flowers and supplied with even more food, on the night before the wedding – even if the have been living together from many years – and the dressing up involves family, friends and bridemaids. Sometimes, also neighbors are somehow involved and they stop the bride to share a toast or for an auspicious greeting as she leaves her parent’s house. In Campania, an old superstition rite requests the bride to throw down a pottery plate with some coins and flowers and break it, when she exits the  door.

The groom’s mother has the task and privilege to officially consign the bouquet to the future daughter-in-law, and she usually gives her a jewel beloging to her or to the family as a sign of acceptance. She also enters the church – or hall – with her son, while the bride is taken to the altar by her father, of course. 

[A bouquet of peonies with a backdrop of the stunning Amalfi Coast]

Another role unique to Southern (religious) weddings is the “compare d’anello” (godfather's): a man, usually a wise or influential one, who after the exchange of the wedding bands, gives the bride another ring which is also blessed by the priest to seal his protection role over the couple.

Also, while the bride tosses the bouquet and sometimes the garter, to be catched by the unmarried girls attending the wedding, in some Southern regions the groom has to undertake another ritual: the cutting of the tie. His friends cut his tie in several small pieces and put them on a tray, browsing around the tables to offer them to guests in exchange of some money which is collected and given to the new couple. 

Though the origin and the meaning of this habit in unknown, it still is common in certain areas. Thus, men are warned: don’t choose a too expensive tie – or bring a cheap one to replace it after the ceremony – if you choose to get married South of Rome!